The 25 Greatest Hawaii Albums of the New Century
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In 2004, we compiled a list of Hawaii’s 50 greatest musical albums. At the time, the most recent release to be honored was from 1997. An amazing amount of music has come out since then, and now, more than a decade into the 21st Century, we wanted to know what the best of it was. To find out, we assembled a panel of esteemed musicians, historians and producers to vote for the albums released since 2000 that it felt represented the best in Hawaii music. The results, tabulated according to a weighted point system, are a testament to the vitality of Hawaii’s music. After slack key compilations won the Hawaiian-category Grammy award year after year, the Mainland may have gotten the idea that we play nothing but instrumental guitar, but as this list shows, the scene is a lot more diverse than that. From deeply traditional Hawaiian-language chants to breezy surf rock, the new century of Hawaii music is packed with gems.
Kealii Reichel, 2003
Hawaiian artists fall into two big groups,” says ethnomusicologist and UH faculty member Keola Donaghy. “There are guys that come out with a debut album and then fall off. And then there are the musicians that keep getting better with every release. Kealii is one of those.”
Considering that Kealaokamaile came out a decade after Kealii Reichel’s Kawaipunahele, a debut album that became an instant classic (it was ranked No. 5 on HONOLULU Magazine’s list of the 50 greatest Hawaii albums of all time), getting better was no small feat.
This time, Reichel was driven by the recent passing of his grandmother Kaimaile Puhi Kane. “She was the catalyst, the epicenter of the whole family,” remembers Reichel. “Growing up, I spent summers and most weekends with her. She was a huge influence on me.”
He set out to honor her memory, composing songs and chants that eulogize Kane’s family lineage, her hometown of Paia, and the impact that her life had on Reichel and others.
Jim Linkner, who engineered and mixed the album, says the emotional intensity of the task brought the best out of Reichel. “Kealii, when he’s had tragedy around him, he just has all this creativity that comes out of it,” Linkner says. “He gets inspired when things get difficult.”
As a result, Kealaokamaile is packed with impassioned vocal performances that convey the depth of Reichel’s emotion, bolstered by tight, melodic compositions. “He’s one of the few Hawaiian artists who are writing original, modern mele that you can hum immediately,” says Donaghy.
Reichel says the project was cathartic. “You never really get over someone passing,” he says. “You find a new norm in your life without them. The creation of the album, and the release, turned that page, to the new norm.”
“To put something so personal out there… It felt a little expose-y, but as with a lot of different things, you have to risk exposure to educate and inspire.”
Hear more from Israel Kamakawiwoole, Raiatea Helm, Brothers Cazimero and Kealii Reichel in our web exclusive video.
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